Art from Africa, how to define it?

Clifton Boulder Gallery is specialized in African contemporary art, for no other reason than – as stated on our site – that we are greatly impressed by the beauty, power and expressiveness of these works. But what is African contemporary art and how can it be defined?

This blog is based on  the interview isssue ‘ArtSouthAfrica’, volume 13, issue 1, september 2014, especially on the contributions of:
Valerie Kabov and Marcus Gora, co-founders and directors of First Floor Gallery, Harare, Zimbabwe
Simon Njami, curator, lecturor, art critic and novelist, Paris
Kendell Geers, artist, South Africa/Belgium

Malibongwe Tyilo, fashion and desing blogger, South Africa

Joseph Gergel, curator and writer, Nigeria

IJeoma L. Uche-Okeke, arts project manager and editor, Nigeria and South Africa
Mike van Graan, Afai director and playwright, South Africa

In Africa, an ongoing discourse takes place about African contemporary art. Artists, designers, gallery owners, curators and people of art organizations living on the African continent think of and deleberate on this theme and its dynamics. And, as should be in a discourse, on some points they reached agreement, others  points still give rise for further debate.

They do agree on what African contemporary art is not: it is not what is called the classic art from Africa, like wooden sculptures and masks. It is not about untrained artists with natural talent who have to stay uneducated. And it is not what the Western world wants it to be and defines it, nor should it be measured against the parameters that have been set by the West. As Joseph Gergels states: it should not be seen isolated or as a sideshow on the global art market.

There are also positive points of agreement. They all say that Africa is a huge and diverse continent, with big and profound differences between north and south and east and west, for there is a vast and rich diversity of cultures and cultural influences on the continent. They also do think that African artists should be able to work, live, educate and develop themeselves on the continent, without the need to have to go into the Diaspora in order to survive both economically and creatively as an artist. And, at last but not at least, that African contemporary art is still a niche in the global art world, while, according to Simon Njami, it is the missing link, the part that the world misses in order to complete the global art world.

This still doesn’t tell us what African contemporary art is. This question leads to different answers:

For Mike van Graan African contemporary art is diverse, and that’s what needs to be celebrated.
For IJeoma Uche-Okeke, it is art made by artists from the African continent, inspired by the rich cultures and traditions of the various regions, as well as by contemporary cultures on the continent and global trends.

For Valerie Kabov African and Marcus Gora, contemporary art can definetely be seen as a new dynamic energy, as an intellectual breath of fresh air. For them, it is something that people from all walks of life and all cultures respond to and be thrilled by. The best works of artists from Africa carry a potent change of belief, without being blind for the suffering, without forgetting history and celebrating them in their own rights. They also states that African artist can and should make which makes a lasting contribution to society.
It seems, there are so many true and exciting answers as there are artists. Therefore, as Malibongwe Tyilo feels, the conversation is still necessary as there are so many aspects of defying the indentity.

Where does that leave Clifton Boulder Gallery? For one thing, we will not even try to define African contemporary art, we can only say how we think and feel about it. As Joseph Gergel stated, it is important that African art can define itself in its own terms on the global stage, rather than being defined by the Western art institutions.

Clifton Boulder Gallery only can and wants to create a void, where this art can present and define itself and hope that everyone who views it, does feel it’s energy and the breath of fresh air.

We invite everyone to come, see and feel this at one of the upcoming fairs. Or contact us at this website. For, as Valerie Kabov says, art is a gift to a shared humanity. We are looking forward to share this with you.